Wednesday, 11 November 2020

The Pumpkins of 2020

I carved fewer pumpkins this year because I decided doing 31 carvings was insane and it took me months to recover. I couldn't get hold of compost in spring because of the Covid Lockdown, so I was late getting my pumpkin seeds planted and had no ripe pumpkins of my own in October. Finally, I had finished my first novel during lockdown, it had been run through three beta readers, and I was in the home stretch of proofreading and not wanting to be distracted.

So here is a little overview of each of the pumpkins, and I will go back to last year's posts to add any tips that I feel I have learned from my third year of carving pumpkins.

Lobster Pumpkin Carving, Moti Black, 2020

I was determined to get a lobster as I thought the colours would be perfect. I seemed to have forgotten how to carve over the last ten months, but by my third attempt I was starting to get back into the swing of things. (This was my third attempt.)

Pittenweem Old Harbour, Pumpkin Carving, Moti Black, 2020

This image looked better viewed in real life, as the image moved around the pumpkin, so the shadows and blocking were a bit off in the photograph. 

French Horn, Pumpkin Carving, Moti Black, 2020

My niece plays the French Horn, so I thought I would try a brass section pumpkin. I chose to carve the image quite small, so I could decorate one pumpkin with a whole brass section, musical notes and text. This meant that digging out the tubes to different depths to create the 3D image was a technical challenge, and the final image didn't photograph as well as I planned. I did a trumpet on the same pumpkin, then abandoned this idea, as Halloween was fast approaching, and I had a window to fill. (I will add the photo of the trumpet at a later date.)

The Dory Logo (© The Dory), Pumpkin Carving by Moti Black, 2020

The Dory Bistro and Gallery kindly offered to display my pumpkins in their window for the second year running. I thought carving their logo on a pumpkin would be a nice surprise for them.

Crail, Pumpkin Carving, Moti Black, 2020

Carved on a pumpkin which I grew from the seeds of last year's Pittenweem West Shore Pumpkin, I embarked on a two day pumpkin carving marathon to try and recreate last year's success, As the pumpkin was not ripe the skin was dark green and reacted with the light differently than I was used to. It was also a bit past its best, so the flesh had a different consistency, breaking off in chunks, rather than slicing into nice controlable bits. I wasn't happy with the final result so I plan to try again next year, and I will make sure I plant my seeds as early as I can!

However, it still proved to be the most popular pumpkin of this year's carves. Thank you everyone for your lovely comments. :-)

Hedgehog Pumpkin Carving, Moti Black, 2020

A bit tired from carving the Crail pumpkin, I wasn't planning to do this carve. But having got a friend of mine to enter a hedgehog pumpkin carving competition, she politely suggested that I move my arse and get my entry in as I still had a few hours before the deadline. This is actually carved into a rotting pumpkin, and had the trumpet and French horn on the other side. The face is a bit dark as the pumpkin was a bit thicker on the inside at that point, but it was so gross inside, I didn't dare go in and correct that. 

I got the carving in just before the deadline and won the competition :-)

Hayden, based on a photo by James Palmer, Pumpkin Carving by Moti Black, 2020

This was going to be my last carve, as Halloween was over, my hand painful, and I really just wanted to get my manuscript ready to submit. But I still had one green pumpkin sitting on the stairs and I thought I would go back to how my pumpkin carving obsession began, and try a person. So this is my attempt at my nephew.

Mary Wollstonecraft, based on a portrait by John Opie, Pumpkin Carving by Moti Black, 2020

I was just going to throw out the pumpkin I carved Hayden on (which had been sat in my office slowly going off for the last three days), when a twitter thread caught my eye, so I turned my last pumpkin around, and embarked on a tribute to Mary Wollstonecraft, in which she isn't tiny, naked, and unrecogniseable. Unfortunately, the pumpkin was a bit thinner around her right eye (the one on the left in this image), and the pumpkin was a bit unpleasant inside, so I didn't go in and even out the light. Maybe I'll try it again next year.

The appeal of carving her face into a pumpkin came from the thought that she had been erased from history and her legacy was now being restored. I thought a biodegradable canvas provided a good metaphor for that. I will spend the evening with her lit up in the corner of my office, and then feed the pumpkin to the compost heep in the morning.

So that is my 2020 pumpkin season over. Thank you for all the support and comments, and hopefully I will be back with more pumpkins and ideas next year.

Pumpkin Carving Hints and Tips Index:

Monday, 1 June 2020

The Seven Swords of Piracy

The Seven Swords of Piracy by Moti Black (March 2020)
(Text Below)

I wrote this poem back in March due to the rise in people defending their choices to buy pirated goods and attacking artists and friends of artists for pointing out the problems and consequences of knowingly buying pirated goods.

With the sad news that yet another artist I admire is thinking of leaving their chosen field due to people deliberately opting for low price pirated goods rather than buying genuine goods, I thought I would share the poem on my blog.

The art work for the above image was taken from a pumpkin I carved in 2019, and is available on RedBubble.

The Seven Swords of Piracy (Piracy Kills Creativity) 


I cannot be held accountable for the things it is I buy.
How can I tell if it’s genuine, when sellers always lie?
     Do a bit of research, check why it’s too good to be true.
     Look at the product and the vendor: assess the real value.

Foregoing Responsibility

I am not the bad guy here, it’s got nothing to do with me,
I paid money, I did not steal: my friends tell me they agree.
     You paid someone to steal for you, you condone the work they do.
     Money makes this market grow: the money that comes from you.

Consequence Denial 

I get something a bit cheap; the artist gets a free advert,
You’re making a fuss over nothing, no one is getting hurt.
     You’re handing money to criminals, and what that funds, who knows?
     You hurt the artist, reduce investment, and bring fresh art to new lows.


The greedy artists charge too much, they must be rich, don’t you see?
I can’t afford the prices they charge, that’s why there’s piracy.
     Most artists aren’t as rich as you think, and you clearly don’t value their art.
     Would you be happy working for free for some self-entitled upstart?

Compulsion Disorders

I have an addiction and you have no right to make me feel like this.
Publishers should not push their wares when they know that we can’t resist.
     If you are being genuine, please seek professional advice.
     But it’s not an excuse and don’t tell others to buy fake merchandise.

Faux Ethics 

There’re always those silly extras, that come with authentic goods.
I’m doing it for the environment, I’m helping to save those woods.
     You could buy the item second hand, or not buy it at all.
     Your blatant consumerism weakens your claim to a higher call.

The Blithe Shopper 

Look, I don’t care, say what you want, it’ll have no impact on me.
To be honest, if I could, I’d be printing art out for free.
     For all the artists, can I just say, you are not welcome to our art.
     To knowingly buy pirated goods, reveals a truly selfish heart.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

The Quiet Panic

The Quiet Panic by Moti Black April 2020

The Quiet Panic

By Moti Black

This is a quiet panic:
A sedate fear behind doors.
Behind screens and links that click;
That’s finally reached our shores.

Elsewhere, there’s cacophony:
Key workers risking it all;
Death with no ceremony;
Heroes answering a call.

In the quiet of cancelled plans,
That space between scared and bored,
I use the time on my hands,
To ignite dreams long ignored.

I practice skills, write my tome;
Send good wishes, clap at eight:
Cocooned safely in my home.
Late at night, I cry and shake.

Shopping trips with toothcomb queues
Remind me normal is gone.
Hurry home to watch the news,
Think: ‘crying emoticon’.

This is a quiet panic:
Measured in memes and death tolls.
PPE and numbers sick,
Stock levels and toilet rolls.

Lockdown hit as I was revving up for the art season. I rather abruptly put away all my art supplies and jumped into my writing. I wasn't completely serious when I said I was going to have my novel finished by the end of quarantine, but now I am, as I only have six chapters left. 

I did take a little break in April to write the above poem. I was looking at it earlier and realised it was already starting to feel a snapshot of a past state of being, so I probably ought to put Chapter 31 to one side for a few minutes and share The Quiet Panic with you, before we are all looking back at the pandemic as a historical event we hopefully learned from.

Stay safe.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Pittenweem Pumpkin Challenge: Overview

Last year I set myself the challenge of carving 31 pumpkins this October. Unfortunately, I didn't quite succeed, but I did get to 31 Pumpkins by mid November.

Below is a video montage of all of the carvings I created. Although it goes up to twenty nine, pumpkins eighteen and nineteen both have an extra carving which I didn't count separately, as at the time I was riding high and thought I would easily create many extra carvings, so could discount the pumpkin flops.

(There is no sound to this video).

I found that trying to write a detailed blog on how to carve pumpkins whilst trying to carve thirty one pumpkins in a month was a bit much to take on, so I will go back and tidy up, add to and tweak the posts I put up this year. I also found that the time pressure to create pumpkin carvings meant I didn't have time to experiment, and at times focused on whipping off a carving rather than working on better designs and carvings. 

I have put up several of the photos of the carvings on RedBubble, and I'm having fun with photoshop converting some of the other designs into products. If I have missed out an image you would like to see, or you would like an image in a different colour, just message me.

So this is the part where I set myself the challenge for next year...

Twenty Pumpkins for 2020

With a focus on Scottish Castles (but not all of them will be castles.)

Please join me! 

Set yourself a challenge, be it caving 31 pumpkins or more, or carving your first ever pumpkin, and share your creations on social media with #PittenweemPumpkins2020

(Edited to add; due to the Corona Virus, I am not spending this summer travelling Scotland, photographing castles for this project, so will just do 20 random images.)

Pumpkin Carving Hints and Tips Index:

Pumpkins Twenty Three to Twenty Nine: The End of the Line

Unfortunately, I missed my Halloween target for carving thirty one pumpkins, but I kept going. I was aching all over, I had put on weight from sitting still, hunched over pumpkins, carving for over a month, and I was getting callouses on my hand from handling the sharp tools. But I kept going.

Pumpkin Twenty Three: Pittenweem East Shore

I rushed into this pumpkin straight after my two day marathon for Pittenweem West Shore, and I think the quality suffered for it. Although the brightest house is painted white, so does stand out, artistically, I don't think it works, and my hand was hurting so much, it really was a struggle to carve this design. It was also the only pumpkin where I had to race the sunrise, as I need total darkness to photograph the pumpkins, and only just got this one finished in time, and may have jumped into photographing it a bit sooner than I would have if I wasn't exhausted, in pain, and dawn had started to break.

Pumpkin Twenty Four: White Rose

I wasn't happy with this one at all at the time, but it has grown on me a bit since.  The first pumpkin I ever carved in this style of carving had been a rose, and had turned out quite well, so I thought this would be easy and very striking. However, as this was a white rose, and the last rose was red, I think the colour variation was a bit more subtle, and required a less exhausted carver, and a crisper pumpkin. At this stage of the season, the pumpkins I could get hold of were starting to age. Some were rotting (I lost five or so home grown pumpkins as they rotted before I got to carve them) and shop bought ones were starting to get very stringy, so it was like carving loosely clumped together spaghetti, and the flesh of the pumpkin was much thinner than at the start of the season.

Pumpkin Twenty Five: Leafless Tree

This is the only pumpkin I carved without top. In an attempt to save one of my home grown pumpkins which was starting to rot, I cut the rotting top off, and thought I had picked a simple, quick design to carve. It didn't take three hours. In fact, this was the second two day carve I did, and was a race against the rotting flesh, which was going brown and soggy as I was carving. it was not the nicest sensory experience, but I did like the visual result.

Pumpkin Twenty Six: Pittenweem Pier

This was a simple and fun carve, although the pumpkin was far past its best. The seagulls were created by slicing into the flesh and inserting slithers shaved from the top of the skin. I think this one looked much better IRL, as the 3D roundel tower doesn't quite work at this angle

Pumpkin Twenty Seven: Jellylorum the Tabby Cat

The pumpkins were getting very hard to work with now. The insides were very stringy, so it was very easy to knock off a big chunk when working on small detail. I wasn't so keen on this final image, but have since been asked to put it on redbubble, as someone wanted it as a cushion cover.

Pumpkin Twenty Eight: Skull Two

Pumpkin Twenty Nine: The End

I carved two pumpkins without counting them earlier in the month (the first attempt at Low Light on the Isle of May, and the second seagull: pumpkins eighteen and nineteen.) So, although this is pumpkin 29, it is my 31st pumpkin, so I can finally lay down my carving tools and rest. I had to pick a simple design, as the inside of the pumpkin was coming away in chunks, and the flesh was very thin.

Pumpkin Carving Hints and Tips Index:

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Pumpkins Twenty to Twenty Two: Growing your own pumpkins

I am going to rush through the next two pumpkins, so I can talk about the pumpkin I have been waiting to carve for most of the year...

Pumpkin Twenty - Skull (On Redbubble)

Pumpkin Twenty One - St Monan's Kirk

In preparation for my carving extravaganza, I bought some pumpkin seeds and pretty much converted my entire garden into a messy pumpkin patch. I have never grown pumpkins before, and I am no expert, so I won't give you any tips, I will just describe what I did.

I bought some Atlantic Giant pumpkin seeds, threw in a couple of Pot of Gold pumpkin seeds, and planted them all along my flower beds, not realising how big the plants would grow and where they would grow. I put down some fresh compost and miracle grow, and kept them well watered. When they started growing right across my lawn (oops), I removed some of the pumpkins that started growing, so those that were growing would get a bit bigger. Later, I fed them a bit of tomato fertiliser, and lifted them off the grass so the air could get underneath them, but on the whole, I just kept them watered and let them get on with it. The one I carved the Pittenweem West Shore, was the only pumpkin on it's plant. and here is my baby growing...

(Edited to add: When planting my 2020 pumpkin harvest, I have a feeling the couple of Pot of Gold Pumpkins I planted may have been the only ones to come through, as the seeds for the Atlantic Giants which I took from the pumpkins I carved, don't look like the ones I bought from my seed supplier.)

It didn't fully ripen in time, so I left it outside longer than I probably should have done, hoping it would lose a bit more of it's green. Although I caught this one in time, I did lose four home grown pumpkins, as the stalks got too wet, and even though I brought them inside before they showed any sign of it, they started to rot, and I couldn't carve quick enough to keep up with how quickly they were decomposing.

Next year, I plan to start my pumpkin plants inside, so they will be a bit further along in the season, and I will finish off their ripening inside.

I chose a view of Pittenweem West Shore for this pumpkin, as it was the right shape, and big enough to be able to include a lot of the detail, although this proved a bit trickier than I thought it would.

The carve took me two days, and by the end I could barely move my hand, but it proved my most popular carving to date (although my personal favourite is still Low Light).

My favourite bits of the carving are the lamp post on Calmans Wynd and the clock in the Tolbooth tower. Both of which I used a pin to poke all the way through the pumpkin to let the light shine through, and the lamp post was created by making little cuts and inserting slithers of pumpkin skin.

Close up of detail

Pumpkin Twenty Two: Pittenweem West Shore

I uploaded the unedited photo to RedBubble...

But then I discovered the photoshop tool for imposing a rainbow over an image, so I uploaded a rainbow version as well, because who doesn't need rainbow Pittenweem socks from a carved pumpkin?

Pumpkin Carving Hints and Tips Index:

Monday, 4 November 2019

Pumpkins Sixteen to Nineteen: Some of my many mistakes and how I tried to fix them

 Pumpkin Sixteen: Pittenweem Gyles (First Attempt)

Right from the start of this pumpkin, I felt like I didn't know what I was doing. I was distracted, making mistakes, and just not really interested, even though I had been looking forward to this scene.

Halfway through carving, I accidentally switched between source photos, so my shadows were going in two different directions and the angles weren't quite right on the buildings. I accidentally cut windows out, and went right through the flesh twice. I also got my first minor cut from the U Gouge flicking through the pumpkin flesh and into my finger.

But it gave me an opportunity to experiment with some 'fixes', and show that I don't always get my carvings right the first time, and the benefits of trying again.

Pumpkin Seventeen: Pittenweem Gyles (Second Attempt)

Get the pumpkin properly prepared!

My most common mistake is rushing into carving without properly scraping the inside of the pumpkin down to a workable level. When I first started carving, I thought having a good 4cm of flesh would mean I could get a lot of tonal variation; I have since learned that about 1.5 cm is the best, and most of the pumpkins I messed up this year were because I was trying to carve into pumpkin where the flesh was too deep and sometimes uneven.

Pumpkin Flop 2019 - this failed as the flesh was too deep.

Pumpkin Nineteen - Seagull
Lots of detailed carving was lost on this one as the flesh was too deep to show it

(I will get a seagull one day, but it's not been a good start!)

Below is my first attempt at the Lighthouse, Low Light, on the Isle of May. As the pumpkin flesh was very thick, and not evenly distributed, the top of the tower became much darker, as the light was going through a lot more flesh. It also meant that some bits of the carving were sticking out about 3cm, which gets a bit tricky when working on other areas.

To try and save the Low Light pumpkin, I tried scratching off some more flesh from the inside, focusing on the bottom half. This resulted in me poking a hole in the wall at the front corner, meaning the light came through a bit too strongly, despite some patching. However, it also created a lovely fluffy cloud like effect where I used the U gouge to cut out deep, slightly rough grooves in the grass. not great for a grass effect, but something I hope to utilise in the future at some point.

Low Light - First attempt. I didn't give this pumpkin a number.

Patching Areas 

The light bit to the left of the tower is where I accidentally scraped through the flesh completely, and had to patch it with some fresh shavings of pumpkin flesh which I got by using the U gouge to remove thin layers of skinless Pumpkin flesh, I carefully laid these over the hole, and then used some soft goopy flesh which I got from scraping the sky with a flat edged sharp tool to smooth the finish. It's not ideal, but patches an image you may want to save. This technique can also be used for a hole you have dug a bit too deep to darken it.

If at First you don't Succeed

In the end, I used the ultimate fixing tool. I did it again... And I got what is so far my favourite pumpkin of 2019. (I am a bit behind with the blog, so I am up to pumpkin 24).

Pumpkin Eighteen: Low Light, Isle of May, Second Attempt 

This image made its way onto my RedBubble shop. Have a look at the 70+ different things you can get with this image on it ;-)

Below is a rather dramatic example of how retrying the same pumpkin carving can yield dramatically different results. These were from last year, when I was still very new to carving pumpkins. I had just carved two pumpkins before this, and only one using the shading technique of whittling away flesh to different levels.

Pamela Coleman Smith Attempt One
Please don't laugh, it was only the third pumpkin I ever carved!

Pamela Coleman Smith, Second Attempt
And this was the fourth pumpkin I carved

If you make a mistake, or aren't good at this straight away, don't worry, practice and if you want to redo a pumpkin, redo it!

Oops! I cut off a window!

This happened to me very early on in my pumpkin challenge, and actually helped me come up with a technique which I now use deliberately, even if I don't accidentally cut off a window.

Whilst working on my cartoon fishing boat, which had three dark windows sticking out about 3cm against a white cabin, I accidentally cut through the bottom of one of the windows.

At first I tried propping the window up with shavings of flesh stacked underneath the window, but the fix was too visible. So I tried cutting a little hole at the bottom and pushing the window through it, so it had the depth of flesh to be dark, but it didn't stick out as much. As you can see from the photo on the left hand side, you can see quite a bit of the side of the protruding windows. After I inserted one window, they didn't all match, so I cut out the whole base of the windows, and inserted the three windows, packing the gaps between them with shavings of pumpkin flesh. The result was much better than it would have been if I had never accidentally cut off the window.

This technique is really useful for small windows, tightly packed windows, or any design where you have small dark shapes against a paler background. If you lose the original shape, you can use a craft knife to cut out a small deep section of pumpkin from the base of the pumpkin, and use that to insert into a small hole. The final shape will have a slight halo around it, but that adds to the charm.

Using pumpkin skin for small details.

I started doing this when my original weather vane for the Dreel Halls, which I had painstakingly cut out, looked far too dark and large, looming over the top of the spire. So I cut it off, smoothed the sky out with a flat sharp knife and then cut a couple of little grooves in the flesh, but not all the way through. I then cut up bits of thin shavings with the skin still attached and used tweezers to insert these into the holes. To make the fish, I folded one bit of skin over.

I later used this technique for the windows of the Low Light Lighthouse, and since then many other windows, lamp posts, etc. which requires a small thin line of darkness.

Pumpkin Carving Hints and Tips Index: